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How do I know if I’ve had yellow fever vaccine?

Yellow fever is a viral disease that is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. It is found in parts of Africa and South America. The yellow fever virus causes symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, backache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). While most people recover from yellow fever, some develop more severe illness and up to 50% of those may die. There is no specific treatment for yellow fever, only supportive care. The best way to prevent yellow fever is through vaccination.

The yellow fever vaccine provides effective immunity against the disease within 10 days for 80-100% of people vaccinated. A single dose provides long-lasting protection, possibly for life. Some countries require proof of yellow fever vaccination for travelers arriving from countries where yellow fever is present. Knowing your vaccination status is important for both your health and travel plans. Here are some ways to find out if you have been vaccinated against yellow fever.

Check your personal records

If you received the yellow fever vaccine in the past, it should be documented in your personal medical records. Check your childhood immunization record from your pediatrician. Also look through any travel immunization records you have from visits to a travel clinic. Yellow fever vaccines are often given at specialized travel clinics. If you have a certificate documenting your vaccination, that is the best proof you can have. The certificate will have details like:

– Date of vaccination
– Vaccine manufacturer
– Lot number
– Stamp from administering clinic

Keep this original certificate in a safe place. You may need to show it when traveling to certain countries. A photocopy or phone photo of your certificate is also useful.

Ask your doctor

Even if you can’t find a vaccination record, your primary care doctor may have a record of the yellow fever vaccine in your medical chart. They maintain records of all your immunizations over time. Call your doctor’s office and ask if a yellow fever vaccine is listed in your chart. Provide the approximate date and location if possible. They should be able to look it up and verify it for you.

Check blood work

When you receive the yellow fever vaccine, your body develops antibodies against the virus. These antibodies can be detected through blood tests. If you have yellow fever antibodies in your blood, it means you have been vaccinated at some point.

You doctor can order a blood test that looks for the yellow fever antibodies. If results are positive, you can consider yourself vaccinated. This blood test is often used to check immunity in people without vaccination records.

Get revaccinated

If you cannot find any records of receiving the yellow fever vaccine, the simplest approach is to get vaccinated again. The vaccine is very safe and effective. Re-vaccination after 10 years or more is unlikely to cause serious side effects. This will ensure you have proper immunity if traveling to an area where yellow fever is found.

Some countries may accept a letter from your doctor stating you had blood tests showing yellow fever immunity. But getting revaccinated is better for your health and satisfies all travel regulations. Discuss your situation with your doctor and a travel health specialist. They can help decide if revaccination is appropriate.

Assess your risk

Are you traveling soon to a part of Africa or South America where yellow fever is a risk? Have you spent significant time living in or visiting areas where yellow fever transmission occurs? If you have potential exposure to yellow fever, it is best to get vaccinated. The vaccine provides protection within 10 days for almost all people.

If you have no plans to travel to yellow fever areas, vaccination may not be urgent. But it is still a good idea to have immunity at some point in your life through vaccination. Discuss your individual risk with your healthcare provider. They can recommend the best timeframe to get vaccinated based on your travel history, health status, age, planned travel in the coming years, and other risk factors.

Where can I get vaccinated?

The yellow fever vaccine is not routinely given at most clinics. It is usually only stocked at specialized travel medicine clinics due to the limited demand. Contact a travel clinic to schedule an appointment for yellow fever vaccination if needed. Be sure to bring your prior immunization records if possible. Travel clinics will provide documentation of your vaccination that can be used for future international travel.

Some pharmacies and public health departments also offer yellow fever vaccine. Ask your doctor for a prescription and call ahead to check availability. Yellow fever vaccines may need to be ordered specially for some locations.

Travel clinics

  • Offers yellow fever and other travel-related vaccines and medications
  • Provides certificate of vaccination for travel requirements
  • Can look up your records from their system
  • Staff have specialized training in travel health

Doctor’s office

  • Your primary care doctor may be able to administer the vaccine
  • Your medical records are easily accessible
  • You may need to go elsewhere for travel paperwork
  • Make sure to get the vaccination documented for your records


  • Some pharmacies offer travel vaccines including yellow fever
  • May need to specifically request and schedule the vaccine in advance
  • Lower cost option for people with no insurance coverage
  • You get vaccinated documentation

Health departments

  • Check if your local health department provides yellow fever vaccine
  • Often lower cost, may accept some types of insurance
  • Provides a vaccination record
  • Call to confirm vaccine availability before going

Who should get vaccinated?

The CDC recommends yellow fever vaccine for:

  • Travelers going to areas with risk of yellow fever transmission
  • Laboratory personnel who work with yellow fever virus
  • Residents and travelers to yellow fever endemic areas in South America and Africa
  • People with occupational risks for exposure such as mosquito control, forestry, and wildlife services

Routine childhood vaccination for yellow fever is not recommended in areas without disease risk. But some countries do include yellow fever vaccine in their national immunization programs.

One lifetime dose of yellow fever vaccine provides long-lasting immunity for most people. Booster doses are not needed except in special circumstances. Pregnant women should get vaccinated if they cannot avoid travel to high risk areas. Infants under 9 months should not be vaccinated. Talk to your doctor about your specific situation if you have concerns.

Common side effects

The yellow fever vaccine is very safe and effective. Mild side effects may occur within days of getting vaccinated. These usually resolve on their own within a week.

  • Soreness, redness, swelling at injection site
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness

Rare but serious side effects include:

  • Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
  • Neurologic problems
  • Liver inflammation
  • Kidney failure
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Pancreatitis

See a doctor right away if you have serious reactions, especially involving the nervous system like difficulty walking or confusion.

Side effect rates

Side Effect Rate
Injection site reactions 20-60%
Headaches 5-10%
Muscle aches 5-10%
Fever Less than 1%
Severe allergic reaction 1 in 55,000
Serious liver, kidney, neurological reactions 1 in 125,000 to 250,000

Who should not get the vaccine?

These groups should avoid the yellow fever vaccine due to higher risk of severe side effects:

  • Infants under 6 months old
  • People with weakened immune systems such as from HIV/AIDS, leukemia, lymphoma, thymus disorder, etc.
  • People taking immunosuppressant medications
  • People with thymus gland problems
  • People with cancers, especially blood, bone marrow, lymph node cancers
  • People who have had their spleen removed or nonfunctional spleen
  • People with kidney failure
  • People with liver failure
  • People allergic to eggs
  • People allergic to prior dose of yellow fever vaccine
  • Pregnant women (unless travel cannot be avoided)
  • People 60 years and older (some countries still give vaccine if no other options)

Talk to your doctor first if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns. Those over 60 should also discuss vaccination with their physician, as age increases complication risks.

What if I’m not sure?

If you have no definitive proof that you have been vaccinated against yellow fever, take these steps:

  • Ask your doctor to check your medical records and do blood work for immunity.
  • Inform your doctor if you have lived in or traveled to yellow fever regions in the past.
  • Discuss the risks and benefits of repeat vaccination.
  • Determine your near-future travel plans and risk of yellow fever exposure.
  • Get vaccination scheduled at least 10 days before potential exposure from travel.
  • Keep your vaccination records and certificate safe after getting vaccinated.

Key Points

  • Check your personal immunization records.
  • Ask your doctor to search your medical chart.
  • Get blood work to look for antibodies from past vaccination.
  • If uncertain, get vaccinated again for your health and travel requirements.
  • Yellow fever vaccines are given at specialized travel clinics.
  • One lifetime dose provides long-term immunity for most people.


Finding out your yellow fever vaccination status is important, especially prior to travel to affected areas in Africa and South America. Check all your medical and immunization records thoroughly. Have your doctor do blood work to look for antibodies. If there is no proof of prior vaccination, get vaccinated again to ensure you have immunity. The vaccine provides effective protection against this serious viral disease with generally mild side effects. Speak to a travel medicine specialist to learn more about yellow fever risks and prevention through vaccination.